The Chippewas and Spartans will conclude the non-conference portions of their respective schedules this Saturday. This game is Michigan State's next step in its quest to claim the mythical "state championship." Their neighbors in Mount Pleasant will visit Spartan Stadium.
The Chippewas are not as weak as their 1-2 record might indicate. The first loss occurred at home against Oklahoma State by only 11 points, a team currently ranked in both major polls. Last week, CMU forced Syracuse into overtime inside the Carrier Dome before the Orange escaped with a win.
Michigan State holds a 6-3 advantage in the series history. The first eight of those meetings occurred in East Lansing. The Spartans won the most recent meeting, 41-7. That was the only game ever played in Mount Pleasant between these two programs.
Central Michigan at Michigan State
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Michigan State -28.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Generous Spartan defense vs. well-tested Chippewa offense
After three games, Michigan State has allowed an average of 388.3 yards per game and 5.7 yards per play. Additionally, the Spartans have been outscored in the second halves of games, 49-34. Permitting that many yards and points may let an overmatched underdog hang around through the fourth quarter. The Chippewas have averaged 334.5 yards in two games against FBS opponents. CMU could snatch a victory away from a lackadaisical defense and unproductive offense with a few well-timed big plays late in the game after coming up agonizingly short last week.
2. Injuries and suspensions among defense level the playing field
The Spartans have lost a starting linebacker, Ed Davis, and a starting cornerback, Vayante Copeland, for the rest of the season due to injuries. Darian Hicks, a starting cornerback in the majority of last season's games, is still recovering from mononucleosis. Another linebacker, Riley Bullough, will miss the first half after being ejected in the second half versus Air Force. Two reserves, safety Mark Meyers and defensive end Montez Sweat, are also suspended. Will the absence of these players make a difference between Central Michigan being manhandled and having a legitimate chance to upset the Spartans?
3. Motivation versus complacency
Central Michigan has 75 players from the Great Lake State. Surely, they would love to knock off their upscale neighbor from the Big Ten. Very few of them were likely recruited by Michigan State. The fact that the Spartans are ranked second by the media and third by the coaches would make an upset even sweeter for the guys wearing maroon and gold.
Michigan State faces its second of eight straight unranked opponents. Preferably, the Spartans have to provide enough style points in winning to stay in the high regard of the College Football Playoff selection committee. The men in green need to stay focused on the current opponent and not on what might lie ahead. Any references to a possible "Game of the Century" in late November must be squashed. Is it possible for a team to be caught looking ahead to a game two months in the future?
This shapes up as a typical match between one team with nothing to lose and another team with everything to lose. A victory for CMU would give the Chippewas a huge burst of momentum heading into its Mid-American Conference slate. However, the gap in talent and depth will eventually make the difference despite the Chippewas' skill and motivation and Spartans' missing players and suspect pass defense.
Prediction: Michigan State 34, Central Michigan 23
— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.